Shift work and higher body fatness: Behavioral perspective


Numerous studies have shown that people who work on rotational-shift basis and night shift workers often have higher BMI(body mass index) compared to those workers who work during the day i.e. 7am-3pm shifts/ 9am-5pm shifts. Some examples of the jobs which includes rotational-shift work are nurses, policemen, military, call center workers, factory workers, and other businesses that runs on a 24-hour cycle to maintain production. Just like what I wrote in my blog about obesity, I described how industrialization affects our health and body composition. The importance of this topic in my opinion is severely underrated because shift work is now a growing part of many people’s lifestyle especially with the current economic crisis many of us were facing right now, it leaves some of us not too many choices but to deal with it.

According to research and based on my personal observation because I’m a shift worker myself (in fact my situation is a bit more complicated because I work on a non-linear or rotational-shift work on a weekly basis being an orderly in a hospital setting environment), there are many factors that affects shift workers health and body composition due to interruption of hormonal status, social interaction disturbance and behavior. As a shift worker myself, that gave me an opportunity to oversee and observe about what’s going on in the free-living world vs. controlled laboratory experiments. My purpose of writing this blog is to tackle the shift worker’s behavior since there are many people who works on this basis yet they are not aware of these changes that alters their eating behavior and how shift work can affect a shift worker’s behavior towards exercise and physical activities. As a living proof, staying lean doing a shift work is possible but it may take extra amount of effort to do so.

Diet wise, consider intermittent fasting. Not because it has some magical effects on fat loss but it makes your fat loss journey/ weight management more convenient in the context of not worrying about eating thus in my experience, after adapting to IFing eating pattern, appetite will be suppressed and I can feel being more energetic than constantly nibbling on foods. As a night shift worker, I need to stay up all night because of the demand of my job. If you can’t adapt to IFing(Intermittent fasting) type of eating pattern, find a habitual eating pattern that will work at your own convinience. Although in my experience/ observation, it’s also beneficial to give our digestive system some break on digesting foods especially when working nightshifts. Another benefit is that during our day off, our eating pattern doesn’t get interrupted because a person doing a conventional work schedule eats during daytime so our primary goal as a shift worker is to normalize our eating pattern/ lifestyle as much as possible. There are some days that we may have a tiny party at work so there’d be temptations to eat. Personally speaking, breaking our fast once in a while(about once a month) wouldn’t hurt as long as we keep our food intake in moderation. When I say moderation, I’m talking about trying a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

It is also important to take note that social eating can play a big part why shift workers tend to have higher BMI than daytime workers because in my observation, since the workload is sometimes less during the night, we tend to have more time eating to socialize(eating even we’re not really hungry). I’m not saying that socialization with our coworkers is automatically bad for weight management but we can still keep our relationship with them even if we skip our eating relationship. If you’re afraid to skip a meal, think about this: one of the purpose of our body fat is to serve as a stored energy when food is unavailable. How cool is that performing your work tasks using body fat as an energy source. 🙂

Boredom can also be another factor. When we are bored, we tend to focus our attention towards food. Think again, are you really hungry or do you just want to do something out of boredom? My suggestion is to do something productive during your free time be it reading a book, do your work in advance, etc.

Staying physically active

Backpedalling to boredom, one of a good way to become productive in the context of weight management productivity is to do some NEAT during your free time at work: do some walking. Do this on a habitual basis and in the long run, the calorie burn adds up which can be beneficial in terms of calorie expenditure.

In my experience/ observation, shift work can also alter our behavior towards being physically active so you may have to break that comfort zone to stay fit doing this kind of work environment. Even when you’re feeling lazy, stay active, work harder and you’ll burn more calories subconsciously.
Since one effect of impaired circadian rhythm is fluctuations in our hormonal environment, shift work can also affect our behavior towards exercise. It can make us feel demotivated not to do a regular exercise plan. While it’s okay to choose sleep/ rest sometimes over exercise, do not do this on a habitual basis. One of our greatest tool to stay lean doing a shift work is a regular exercise. It helps to create a personal motivation to stick to our exercise routine thus maintaining a stable relationship with exercise can lower our stress levels.

While there are also hormonal factors that affects a shift workers body composition, our behavior is something that is in our control that’s why it’s very important for us to become aware and learn to adapt to our present environment.


  1. Absolutely worth to bookmark this article. Lots of important information we can get in this web page. Superb!

  2. Thank you for the info. I had also wrote a blog about this subject but mine wasn’t as informative. I do not do shift work but I suffer from sleep apnea and my health has been affected.

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